The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the nation’s “Rosenwald schools” to its list of the 11 most endangered historic places for 2002.
The schools were built in the early 1900s to educate African-Americans in rural areas. The Rosenwald Fund, started by Julius Rosenwald, a high school dropout from Chicago who became the president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., paid for the schools. Booker T. Washington, the nation’s pre-eminent African-American educator at the time, teamed up with Mr. Rosenwald to help with the project.
The fund built more than 5,300 schools in 15 Southern states, but the schools are rapidly disappearing, according to the national trust, which has been involved in trying to preserve historic school buildings. (“National Trust Urges Saving Historic Schools,” Nov. 22, 2000.)
Rosenwald schools have been overlooked by state agencies and architectural-preservation advocates, said Angelo Franceschina, the president of the Rural Initiative Project in Winston-Salem, N.C., who is helping to locate Rosenwald schools.
“They’re not architectural masterpieces; they don’t look important or imposing,” he said. “They’re just little shanties in the country.”
Many of the schoolhouses had only one or two rooms, and could be opened up into a single space that could double as a town hall or community center. The schools, designed by architects at Mr. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, had distinctive tongue-and-groove walls, pine floors, and small entrance foyers.
After desegregation, many of the Rosenwald schools were demolished. But some were converted into senior centers or community housing.
—Marianne D. Hurst
A version of this article appeared in the June 19, 2002 edition of Education Week